By John Lumpkin: Manny Pacquiao’s victory over Miguel Cotto was not only entertaining, but hugely significant. As most fight fans are aware, Pacquiao began his career at 106 lbs and has captured world titles at 112,122, 130,135, 140 and now 147. Pacquiao is not the first multi-division champion with six world titles. Thomas Hearns and Oscar De La Hoya have been there before. In Pacquiao’s case however, not only did he win six titles in six divisions, he skipped three divisions along the way! In terms of available weight classes, it is like asking a lightweight to win the heavyweight crown.
If we think about Pacquiao’s rise in weight, he is about 31% bigger at 147 than at 112 which is the rough equivalent of asking a lightweight champion to win the light heavyweight title or a middleweight to win the heavyweight title which two men have done. Roy Jones Jr. recently took a heavyweight title from John Ruiz and Bob Fitzsimmons took the heavyweight crown from John L. Sullivan, however Fitzsimmons never weighed more than 172lbs so his weight gain was not as significant as Jones’ or Pacquiao’s.
The big differentiator for Pacquiao and what makes his latest victory so special is that unlike champions before him who have risen significant weight or won titles multiple divisions higher than where they started is that his choice of opposition was exceptionally high. Cotto is an accomplished fighter with a terrific record and is recognized as one of the pound for pound best. If you look at the list of conquered foes that legends of the past beat to earn the title at the highest weight class they competed, the list is not that impressive.
Sugar Ray Leonard, whose first title came at welterweight, took the Light Heavyweight title without ever actually fighting as a Light Heavyweight by forcing belt holder Donny Lalonde to fight at the super middleweight limit. Lalonde was considered a one armed fighter and one of the least formidable of the available Light Heavyweight Champions at the time. Hearns took on better competition at Light Heavyweight than Leonard beating Virgil Hill and Dennis Andres, but when he stepped up to Cruiserweight, he opted to face title holders that no one except the then lightly regarded sanctioning body considered to be even close to the best available competition in the division. De La Hoya earned a middleweight title against Felix Sturm that many thought he probably should have lost. To his credit, he attempted to win the middleweight title from the recognized champion Bernard Hopkins but was knocked out.
Fighters that go after top opposition when they rise in weight are not typical-those that do often find themselves on the short end of the stick. It may be one of the reasons that so few fighters prior to 1970 were able to win “just” three titles in as many divisions. Many will point out that there were fewer divisions “back then”, but just a little historical note here – the traditional eight divisions were only around on their own for about a decade between 1910 and 1920 when they were replaced with 14 divisions. With the exception of Bob Fitzsimmons who fought when divisions were clear as mud, all other pre-1970 three division champs fought during a time and weight range where junior classes were available. Of those champions, only Henry Armstrong held all three of his three titles in traditional weight classes. What made things more difficult back then is that there were a lot more fighters and competition was tougher for fewer titles in the same weight classes.
The Cotto victory is important for Pacquiao because up until that point, we really did not know where he stood. Like champions rising in weight class before him, his victories at the higher weight classes came with an asterisk. The win over David Diaz was a nice victory, but no one considered David Diaz to be the best in the division at the time. Pacquiao’s own trainer, Freddie Roach, openly and frequently stated that De La Hoya was a shot fighter who could not pull the trigger before the fight and the bout played out accordingly so we did not really learn anything except that Pacquiao could throw nice punches at a heavier sitting duck. The Hatton victory was a beautiful thing to watch (unless you are Hatton), but Hatton’s popularity vastly exceeded his skill level and most folks familiar with Hatton’s deficiencies figured that if Pacquiao had the strength to stay with Hatton that he would claim victory.
All of the fights Pacquiao has engaged in since moving to lightweight have had weight and strength as one of the primary pre-fight discussion criteria for judging the fight. It was a good question to ask because the Diaz, De La Hoya, and Hatton victories were so one sided we had no idea whether or not Pacquiao could effectively rumble with a bigger opponent that actually fought back with vigor. Cotto changed that perception because he fought valiantly, used his strength, and landed hard punches on the former flyweight champion. We now know that Pacquiao can take the punch and that makes him even more dangerous. He has passed a test that so very few fighters in the history of boxing have even attempted that his place in history as one of the all time greats will be hard to dispute.
November 16, 2009